Feelings of guilt and shame are typically a universal experience of the human condition. So why is it so hard to get rid of them?
First, let’s consider two big possibilities. 1. These feelings are just a psychological construction that I need to talk myself out of. 2. There is a perfect Creator God that I have sinned against, and these feelings are rooted in a true condition of guilt.
Humanity has been trying to talk themselves out of the idea that there is a universal standard, but we can’t escape it. We all live out of this universal reality whether we want to admit it or not (see C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity for more on this). Because there is a universal standard and we know that we have all broken it, we can’t simply talk ourselves out of the feelings of guilt. So, as a believer in a perfect Creator God, and particularly as a Christian, I am going to focus on the second possibility.
Many Christians through the centuries have usually gone to one of two extremes, which still leaves us with feelings of guilt and shame.
Extreme number one: We try to use religion, or perfectly keeping an external code, as a way to remove feelings of guilt. This doesn’t work. By focusing on an external code (the letter of The Law), we distance ourselves from the person of God Himself, particularly the Holy Spirit, and therefore cripple ourselves from actually being able to walk in the Spirit of The Law. Since this leads us to alienation from Jesus, and a hardened sinful heart, guilt remains.
Extreme number two: We treat the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross in a “religious” way. What I mean is that we simply approach the sacrifice of Jesus as a “ticket to heaven” without having a real relationship with Him—particularly without surrendering to Him as our Savior and Lord. When we approach the life of faith this way, this same result happens—we alienate ourselves from Jesus, which leads to a hardened sinful heart, and guilt remains.
The first century apostle of Jesus named John spoke about this extensively in his first letter to the Church. “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:6-7)
John speaks of a third way—which is the good news! We can put our faith in Jesus—which means abiding in Him. This abiding is having a real relationship with Him where we trust Him and obey Him in increasing measure over time. As we do this, we are in Christ. When we are in Christ, then we are actually free of guilt! As we walk with Him in the Spirit, then over time our feelings of guilt ebb away. This can be true for you.